The Mediterranean diet is considered to be a lifestyle, an ideal diet for a healthy life. A balanced diet and regular physical activity seem to be key elements for health, and studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and helps prevent certain types of cancer. 

A recent study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, shows that the Mediterranean diet supplemented with dairy, lowers blood pressure, cholesterol, improves heart rate, the mood and cognitive function.

The Mediterranean diet has become a global phenomenon since the 1950s, when American physiologist Ancel Keys and his team studied the eating habits and the general health of the population of seven countries: USA, Netherlands, Finland, Yugoslavia, Italy, Greece and Japan. The researchers found out that Italians and Greeks had the lowest risk of developing coronary heart diseases due to the food they ate.

The principles of the Mediterranean diet

We are not talking about a diet of exclusions, but a model focused on nutrient-rich foods. The Mediterranean diet is based on a constant consumption of vegetables, fruits, cereals, fish, olive oil. These foods are found in the food models of the Mediterranean states. 

Fruits and vegetables are important sources of vitamins, minerals and fibers, and they are rich in antioxidants and contain few calories. The World Health Organization recommends eating five servings of vegetables and fruits per day. Cereals are rich in fibers, carbohydrates, vitamins, nutrients such as iron, magnesium, potassium. 

Olive oil can be consumed daily, in moderation. Another source of good fats is oleaginous fruits. Excess is not recommended but in this case, consumption should be limited to 1-2 servings daily. Oilseeds are excellent sources of protein, fibers, vitamins and minerals .

The daily consumption of 2-3 servings of skimmed milk products is also recommended, and the salt in the diet should be replaced, to the extent possible, with herbs and spices. Two servings of vegetables, fish and poultry and 3-4 eggs can be consumed weekly. It is advisable to avoid processed meats and sweets and to eat red meat as rarely as possible.

Red wine can be drunk in moderation, the same with coffee or tea, but the emphasis is on intense hydration with water.

The benefits of the Mediterranean diet

The positive impact concerning cardiac health determined an intense promotion of the Mediterranean diet. The fibers and antioxidants present in the variety of vegetables and fruits reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and slow down the aging process in the entire body.

Healthy fats found in nuts, olive oil and fish reduce inflammation, lower insulin resistance, help to increase "good" cholesterol and lower "bad" cholesterol. 

Whole grain cereals reduce the risk of developing diabetes due to their fibers and phytic acid content, which gives them a low glycemic index. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, the consumption of whole grains helps to strengthen the immune system.  

Carotenoids consumption (antioxidants found in a lot of fruits and vegetables) makes us more optimistic and improve our mood.

The Mediterranean diet has been in the UNESCO heritage since 2010, in order to promote a healthy lifestyle and for the fact that encourages social interaction. Meals should also mean quality time spent with family or friends.

A balanced diet can be considered an investment in health. Eating healthy does not mean starving, but choosing quality, in the right amount. 

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Text: Nicoleta Pescu